Growing a sustainable food system at Leaf Rapids, Manitoba

Growing a sustainable food system at Leaf Rapids, Manitoba
Asfia Gulrukh Kamal, Mariah Mailman and Shirley Thompson
Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba
[email protected]
Leaf Rapids community
involvement in gardening and
healthy living.
Leaf Rapids was founded in 1971 as a mining community and now the majority of the population are First Nation people
relocated from the surrounding communities. Unlike many other northern communities, it has great infrastructure and
facilities to quickly evolve with the healthy food initiatives. For example, Leaf Rapids has a large centralized complex with
many businesses, educational health and recreational facilities as well as a health center promoting healthy life styles.
Another important component is the community owns its own Co-op grocery store that is a beneficial factor in the
distribution and promotion of healthy food. Leaf Rapids is privileged to have a large school with planting rooms, green
houses and several large indoor and outdoor growing areas. Under the supervision of Frontier School Division’s regional
gardening coordinator, Leaf Rapids school is providing various gardening and planting facilities to school students and
community members, as well as to other communities.
Community people getting plants from Leaf Rapids school greenhouse.
Chantal : “I want
to be a gardener.
I love watering
Keith Anderson and his
niece are gardening. In 2003
Keith and Chuck Stensgard
helped 30 families in Leaf
Rapids to start gardening.
Most of those families are
growing flowers and
23% of households cut the size of children’s meals and
20% of households had children who skipped meals.
Households often (11%) and sometimes (33%) ran out of
food and didn’t have money to buy more.
56% of households often or sometimes couldn’t feed
children enough because there wasn’t enough
money to buy food.
This study asked if in the last 12 months:
- was healthy food was accessible and affordable to people (Household Food Security Survey)?
- what were the barriers to putting healthy food on the table of Leaf Rapid’s community members?
- what gardening and other traditional methods of harvesting provide food to Leaf Rapids?
- what did Leaf Rapids people need in order to eat healthier?
A door to door household food security survey and interviews of 101 Leaf Rapids households (random sample) was
conducted in June 2009 by Asfia Gulrukh Kamal. The people interviewed ranged from 18 to 70 years of age. The survey
findings were analyzed by Statistical Products and Survey Solution (SPSS). Open-ended qualitative interviews were
conducted in order to get a holistic understanding of the problem and the solutions. Participatory video methods were used
to record your stories and community engagement.
Survey Result
27% of households often worried they would run out of money to buy food. Food was costly and income was limited.
33% of community households could not afford to buy food.
33% of households relied on a few low-cost food items to feed children.
44% of households weren’t able to buy healthy foods for children.
56% of households had children that weren’t able to eat enough.
30% of community households gardened to improve their access to healthy food.
30% of community households wanted training in gardening.
4% of community households wanted training for youth to get food from the land and they said promoting local food will
help the situation.
6% of community households thought a community garden might help the situation.
30% of the community people think that involving youth in gardening will solve the food access problem in every way.
1% households had children that didn’t eat for a whole day.
10% of households had children that were hungry but there was no money for food.
Prices for healthy food were too high: 27% of Leaf Rapid households said they often worried they would run out of money
and not be able to buy food. Some households had hungry children because there was no money to buy food. People
couldn’t afford to buy healthy food. A number of community people were getting involved in gardening and healthy lifestyle
but more help and training is needed to make a difference.
What are people saying?
Many people who were interviewed wanted to garden (30% of households). Before the mine closed many families gardened.
The long-time community members reported that it was a popular hobby and people competed for the best garden.
In 1981 several teachers built a solar shed greenhouse at Leaf Rapids. Between 1981 to 2000 the school sold between 600
and 1000 trays of flowers and garden vegetables to the community people to buy the supplies and materials to maintain the
greenhouse. The town center had a vegetable exhibition. After the mine closed, approximately 70% of the families left the
community for other job opportunities across Canada. With increasing levels of unemployment, a revival of gardening is
needed to a) increase more physical activities for adults, b) access more healthy food from their own gardens and c) ensure
healthier life styles for young children.
Many community members felt positively about teaching some young children fishing and hunting as well as the need to
teach others. They thought the presence of people from 14 reserves and Aboriginal settlements in Leaf Rapids makes the
community open to teachings on Aboriginal traditional hunting, fishing and gathering.
“I enjoy
Walter Harcrow
said, “I believe in
practicing the
traditional way of
hunting and
fishing. And I
think we should
pass the tradition
to our young
Leaf Rapids is active with gardening activity and the school was an important catalyst for gardening. Children are learning to garden
and enjoy working in the school greenhouse. Local food production is important as many community households cannot afford to buy
healthy food from the Leaf Rapids Co-op Store. Teachings about traditional land activities and chickens are wanted. Frontier School
Division is providing school and community training for gardening but extended training, materials and programs that could make food
production more sustainable and generate community development at Leaf Rapids are needed.
Programs and Contacts
Programs are by request to help actions in communities. Contacts for help and supplies:
1. Northern Healthy Food Initiative (NHFI), part of the Manitoba Government, funds groups like Northern Association of Community
Councils (NACC), Bayline Regional Roundtable (BRRT), Four Arrows Regional Health Authority (FARHA) and Manitoba Food Matters to
increase access to healthy food and to support food projects. Contacts: Jennell Majeran, Manager, Northern Healthy Foods Initiative
(204-677-6677, [email protected]) and Jessica Paley, Northern Healthy Foods Initiative, (204-945-0569,
[email protected]). Programs in communities include:
chicken, turkey (with chicks and feed provided but no coop), goat and other small livestock production,
freezer loans for people to buy freezers to store healthy food,
community or school greenhouse and households receiving plastic for building a greenhouse,
provision of vegetable seeds, berry and other bedding plants, and school grow lights, and
an annual workshop in Thompson called the Northern Harvest Forum provides free teaching to northern community members
about food production and preservation.
2. Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) provides gardening support to communities giving workshops on
gardening and chicken production. Contact: Brian Hunt (204-856-9255, Fax: 204-745-5690, [email protected]).
3. Northern Association of Community Councils (NACC) provides seeds, plants, gardening and loans tools for community and
household gardens, as well as chicken and goats. Contact: (204-947-2227, [email protected] or [email protected]).
4. Frontier School Division provides Veggie Adventure school activities and greenhouse and gardening expertise for northern climates.
Contact: Chuck Stensgard (204-473-2332, [email protected]).
5. Chronic Disease Prevention Initiative (CDPI) provides some funding for traditional activities, gardening and healthy snack and
promotes physical activities. Contact: Penny Howlett, nurse, Leaf Rapids health center (204-473-2441).
6. Burntwood Regional Health Authority could provide community visits of a dietitian to teach community people, particularly
pregnant women and diabetes patients, about healthy diets and how to cook healthy meals. Contact: (204-677-5350).
7. Apply for Green Team, a 100% government-funded program that employs youth to start community gardens, market gardens or help
with household gardening. Fill out the application form at:
8. View your participatory video called Growing Hope at
We thank Frontier School Division for their support, Chuck Stensgard, Keith Anderson, Penny Howlett and Cynthia Greenham from Leaf Rapids for
their feedback on the first draft of this poster and Leaf Rapids community members for participating in the survey. This study was funded by
Canadian Institutes of Health Research Regional Partnerships Program (CIHR-RPP). Photo credit: Asfia Gulrukh Kamal.

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